The 1944 Spring Beer Festival Menu
Phil Townsend Hanna, see our Part VIII, was the long-time editor of Westways, a Los Angeles-based based magazine for auto travellers. The Franklin Library at University of Pennsylvania has a helpful biographical note.
A 2010 blog entry at the Los Angeles Times explains how Hanna transformed Westways into a general cultural and travel resource, partly through featuring quality art.
Another of Hanna’s gigs was editing Bohemian Life, the house organ of California liquor distributor Bohemian Distributing. Hanna’s name did not appear except under a humorous pseudonym, Savarin St. Sure.
Given Hanna’s involvement it had a deeper focus than the typical corporate newsletter. Contributors included the author Idwal Jones and famed culinary author M.F.K. Fisher.
A May 1940 issue of Bohemian Life, in the collection of design museum Cooper Hewitt, featured a bright piece on Riesling. It took notice of contemporary California examples. Also preserved at Cooper Hewitt is the July 1940 issue on al fresco dining.
The prose has an authoritative, assured tone, yet accessible. The newsletter designs are appealing as well, with an elegant period look. Today these are rare items, only occasionally appearing at auction.
In the July 1940 issue, original California pit barbecue is distinguished from subsequent versions of barbecue, which even by 1940 had become the rule. The term “barbecue” for the grilling equipment, albeit placed in quotes, was already established vernacular, and St. Sure noted everyone has one today.
The Society’s 1938 pit barbecue event I discussed recently was an attempt to recover the original tradition.
Of the June 1944 menu, mainly I had the impression of mixed European influences. The canapés were inspired by foods of Norway, Strasbourg, and apparently of Poland.
That employees were not available to do oyster shucking attests to wartime conditions, when so many were in military service or engaged with essential war work.
Relishes, it is stated, replaced a salad due to “streamlining” required by the times. This is interesting given California’s long reputation for fruit and vegetable culture. How wartime conditions impacted exactly is hard to say. There was no rationing for vegetables, I believe.
Conversely, meat rationing seems not to have affected the ability to get a small pig for roasting.
A 1948 (non-beer) menu in Bohemian Life, preserved at UC Davis, gives an example of salads served at Society events in normal times. This was an Italian-theme luncheon, with the insalata course certainly lavish.
The 1944 dinner featured roast piglet. Such a dish is known in numerous places: Spain (Lechon), England, former Spanish colonial territories, and so on. The Society seemed interested to continue old Spanish culinary traditions, perhaps we see an example here.
Sauerkraut in Champagne seems Alsatian more than German perhaps, due to the wine type specified.
Brown Derby, a former chain of mid-market restaurants in southern California, supplied the cheesecake dessert. One Brown Derby still operates today, in Florida at Disney World Resort.
Grapefruit cheesecake was, still is at the Florida restaurant, a specialty of Brown Derby. The Disney Food Blog has a nice picture with notes on Brown Derby history; perhaps it was this version the Society enjoyed in March 1944.
The Florida Brown Derby’s menu appears in a Disneyworld website. The description of cheesecake is certainly appetizing:
Vanilla Sponge Cake with Grapefruit Syrup, Grapefruit Cheesecake, and Grapefruit Jam. A Brown Derby Original!
Cheesecake is emblematic of numerous culinary traditions, and this version seems, finally, more American than anything else.
Even if 1944 Acme Beer, due to wartime conditions, was unusually light-bodied, that may have suited the rich food better than a full-bodied beer. It all seems to have worked out in the end.
The menu states the dinner was “streamlined” due to absence of things like freshly-opened oysters and salads. By any measure today, the meal was a standout nonetheless.
The Last Part of this series follows.